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Bites Between Besties: John & Sons Oyster House

Who Are We? We’re BFFs whose love of stuffing our faces has taken us to the US and Europe in search of the world’s top restaurants. But recently, we decided to have some food adventures closer to home. We’re setting out to try one new (or at least new to us) Toronto restaurant every week for a year – or at least until we can no longer fit into our clothes.
And here’s the catch… we want to give you an authentic experience so all of our reviews are done anonymously. As far as the restaurant is concerned, we’re just two patrons who take lots of photos of their food. Or are we?

This week, we hit up John & Son Oyster House, a midtown restaurant that promises Maritime comfort food.
Address: 1 Balmoral Ave.
Vibe: Relaxed
Price: $$$
Closest subway: St. Clair Station
Drink menu: Wine by the bottle or glass, beer by the bottle or draught, cocktails
Service: Informed and hospitable
Patio: No
Website: johnandsonsoysterhouse.com
Reservations: johnandsonsoysterhouse.com and OpenTable.com 

First Impressions: Since moving to Toronto from the Maritimes, we've both been in search of down-home comfort food. Our quest for traditional donairs is finally starting to bear fruit (what up, Fuzz Box!), but we still haven't found a place that perfectly pairs the down-to-earth chillness of an east coast pub with stellar seafood. John & Sons Oyster House, opened by owner John Belknap, aims to do just that in the airy space previously occupied by Terroni.
John & Sons Oyster House
Oysters (ranges from $2-$4/each)
We couldn't go to an oyster bar without first starting with the specialty of the house. The varieties change daily and we were initially told there were only five available, but there ended up being more to choose from. Our very knowledgeable server walked us through our options and we ended up ordering a mix of 10 (2 Kusshi from BC, 2 Onset Bay from MA, 2 Kumamoto from WA, and 4 Thatch Island from MA). As instructed, we started with the larger, more delicate east coast varieties and worked our way towards the more flavourful west coast ones. All were well-shucked and delicious, though our favourite were the Kusshi from Deep Bay, BC, which were small, thick and had a slightly sweet finish. The oysters were accompanied with a tray of sauces, ranging from a spicy concoction based on a recipe from Belknap's grandmother to a more traditional mignonette.

John & Sons Oyster House chowder
Chowder ($9 cup; $13 bowl)
On our first visit, we were disappointed by the stingy amount of fish in the New England-style chowder. The second time we ordered it, however, the chowder was brimming with clams, as well as potatoes, carrots and bacon. The creamy broth offered a hint of sweetness to balance the strong hickory flavour. It could have used a bit of pepper, but there was none on the table.  
John & Sons Oyster House lobster roll
Lobster Roll ($21)
We will never, ever walk away from the chance to try a lobster roll, so we couldn't resist ordering John & Sons' version. The roll came brimming with huge chunks of lobster -- thank goodness, considering the price. (The best Toronto lobster roll we've tried so far is the Buster's Sea Cove food truck's buttery version, which clocks in at a much more reasonable $13). The lobster was delicious and dressed with a delicate lemon mayo, but the thick bread threatened to overwhelm it. Eventually, we ignored the roll and the bed of lettuce, and just scooped up the remaining lobster bits with a fork. Served with a side of fries and house-made mayo, this ended up being a very filling entrée.

John & Sons Oyster House fish and chips
Fish and Chips ($19)
This was the real winner of the meal: a huge piece of Nova Scotia haddock served with shoestring fries and vinegar-based coleslaw. The perfectly-cooked fish was covered in a crispy, airy Creemore batter and paired well with the homemade tartar sauce studded with capers. We also appreciated that the waiter very nicely suggested we do a half order ($14) because the pieces of fish were so big. 
Final Thoughts: If you're looking for delicious oysters without having to head downtown, John & Sons is a solid bet. We're big fans of the fact that everything is made from scratch, from their tartar and cocktail sauces to their mayo. Thanks to our east coast upbringings, we have some pretty exacting standards when it comes to seafood, and this place didn't disappoint. Though it feels a bit like a big city’s interpretation of Maritime charm (possibly because of the “ladies who lunch” crowd), it does a pretty good job of capturing the down home flavours.